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Alexander Maitland
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John Hanning Speke was one of the great Victorian explorers and his most famous achievement was the discovery in 1862 of the main source of the White Nile in Lake Victoria Nyanza. Born in 1827, he joined the Indian Army at the age of seventeen, and after serving for ten years he joined Sir Richard Burton’s abortive expedition to Somaliland.

After a military interlude in the Crimea, Speke joined Burton’s second Central African expedition in the winter of 1856, twice crossed Lake Tanganyika by canoe and finally pressed on to the Ukerewe Lake which he thought was the source of the Nile; Burton was sceptical.

Speke’s courage, perseverance and toughness were heroic and his instinct for wild life and wild country remarkable.

In 1860 Speke was put in charge of a new expedition and finally penetrated to the place where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria Nyanza.

First published in 1971, Alexander Maitland’s biography remains the only full-length study of Speke.


Alexander Maitland is the author of many books including the authorized biography of Wilfred Thesiger. He also edited Thesiger’s My Life and Travels.

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